Sierra Leone releases opposition protestors from custody ahead of election News
Jonathan Rubin // JURIST
Sierra Leone releases opposition protestors from custody ahead of election

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Sierra Leone released 35 political prisoners from custody Friday on the eve of a high-stakes national election. The country’s fifth election since the end of its civil war in 2002 has sparked wide-spread unrest and prompted calls for peace from the international community.

The development is the latest move in an emergency negotiation process between the parties. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union helped moderate the negotiations. The Elections Observation Missions of ECOWAS and the African Union released a joint press statement on Thursday addressing the situation. They urged all Sierra Leone citizens to adhere to the rule of law throughout the course of the election. They also highlighted the important role of the Electoral Commission, saying the commission “must continue to remain impartial in the execution of its mandate, in the greater interest of all Sierra Leoneans.”

This week, police detained the prisoners at demonstrations against the Electoral Commission. All of the prisoners are members of the opposition party, All People’s Congress (APC). Thousands of APC voters took to the streets in numerous cities on Wednesday to protest against the Electoral Commission. In one such protest, witnesses shared footage online of police forces deploying tear gas and firing live bullets against the protestors in Freetown. One person on social media shared images of what appear to be bullet holes in the APC headquarters in Freetown.

APC claims that the Electoral Commission took steps to rig the election in favor of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). They say that Chairman of the Electoral Commission Mohamed Konneh is an SLPP partisan. ACP has complained that Konneh’s Electoral Commission attempted to manipulate census data and sabotaged voter registration to rig the election in favor of SLPP. SLPP vehemently denies the claim.

In the week leading up to Saturday’s election, relations between APC and supporters of the ruling SLPP have become increasingly tense. On Monday, opposition presidential candidate Dr. Samura Kamara held a rally in Bo, Sierra Leone’s second-largest city. Supporters of incumbent president Julius Maada Bio appeared and attacked the rally, but were beaten back by APC supporters. Many injuries and several deaths were reported. In the chaos, the APC party headquarters in Bo burned to the ground.